Yanks swept Phillies and the undertaker in 1950
The way Bobby Brown tells it, his New York Yankees were stacked with stars going into the 1950 World Series - Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford and the great Joe DiMaggio. The underdog Philadelphia Phillies? Well, they had an undertaker. "I remember the pitching guru for them was a mortician. He wasn't on their staff. He was an undertaker," Brown said by phone this week from his home in Texas. "Really, it's true." That's right, Maje McDonnell confirmed a day before the teams met in this year's Series opener. Now 89, McDonnell was a coach on those Whiz Kids when they got swept by the vaunted pinstripers. While future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts was the Phils' ace, their ace-in-the-hole was a lean, bespectacled pitcher named Jim Konstanty. He looked like a high school teacher and he was, when he wasn't on the mound. Konstanty went 16-7 with 22 saves while making a record 74 relief appearances. The secret of his success? An assortment of slow balls, plus a friend back home who knew how they should be thrown. Every once in a while, Konstanty would call his pal, Andy Skinner, in upstate New York, near Cooperstown. And Skinner, who had never played baseball, would take a break from his job as the town mortician, pack his catcher's mitt and come tinker with Konstanty's delivery. "Jim wouldn't listen to anybody but him. Us coaches, we stayed away," McDonnell said. "It was kind of crazy. I mean, an undertaker? He would sit behind the visitor's dugout, and Jim would go over and ask him things. But it worked. So we were all like, 'Let it go."' On the final day of the season, the youthful Phillies won their first NL pennant since 1915. Waiting for them were the Yankees, in the midst of winning a record five straight World Series championships. Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer made a daring decision: He picked Konstanty for his first start of the year, in Game 1 at Shibe Park. Played against the backdrop of the Korean War, the opener began with a silent prayer for peace. Box seats cost $8.75, general admission went for $1, and President Harry S. Truman listened to the early innings on radio. Konstanty was great, but Vic Raschi was better, pitching a two-hitter that gave the Yankees a 1-0 win. Brown doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jerry Coleman. That's basically how the whole Series went. All the games were close and the Yankees wrapped up the crown in four straight days. New York outscored the Phils 11-5 overall. "It was pretty quick," Berra recalled this week. "The Phillies were a good club on a surge, the Whiz Kids. We had a pretty good club, too. Our starters were (Allie) Reynolds, (Ed) Lopat and Raschi and Whitey was a rookie. That's not bad. "The first two games were in Shibe Park, which we knew from playing the A's," Berra said. "It was an old park, and it once cost me two home runs because I hit the light tower in right field, which was in play." DiMaggio won Game 2 with a 10th-inning homer into the upper deck off Roberts, giving the Yankees a 2-1 victory. "I should've left after nine. DiMaggio hit a wind-blown flyball," Roberts said Monday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies kept coming close, yet never broke through against the Yankees. "I'll tell you, there were four things I didn't like," Roberts said. "I didn't like Notre Dame. I didn't like Michigan, because I went to Michigan State. I didn't like the Yankees because they won even then. And the fourth was Russia. I didn't like them. "We were happy and tired and it showed. It showed up offensively. Of course, they didn't throw chopped liver at us," he said. "It had been a struggle to get there. When Konstanty did what he did, it should have perked us up, but it didn't." Up two games to none, the Yankees boarded a train back to Manhattan. Manager Casey Stengel, in a line straight from the Yogi handbook, observed, "When you win, you can't lose." At Yankee Stadium, the Phillies were wide eyed. "When they first came out of the dugout and saw the stadium, you could see them looking around and pointing," Brown said. "Triple-decked stands, 461 feet out to the wall in left-center. They'd never seen that." A late error hurt the Phillies in Game 3, and Coleman hit an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win. "Nowadays, when you get the game-winning hit, they kiss you and give you cocktails," Coleman, still announcing San Diego Padres games, said with a laugh this week. "Then, it was a pat on the back and get inside the clubhouse." The Yankees clinched the Series on Oct. 7, with Berra homering and Brown hitting an RBI triple off Konstanty for a 5-2 victory. "We were off the field in 10 seconds. I mean it, 10 seconds," Brown said. "Back then, that's how you did it. No celebrating on the field. We saved it for inside."